x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Be men ... gentlemen like England's cricketers

Cricketers should follow the poet Rudyard Kipling's suggestion that being a man requires you to treat both triumph and disaster – and, yes, draws – just the same: a firm handshake, a pat on the back and a brisk "Well played!"

England players perform the “Sprinkler” dance after winning the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne.
England players perform the “Sprinkler” dance after winning the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne.

"Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter.

"Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter.

"Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade!"

Considering how much the England cricket team enjoy a synchronised dance routine (watch their "Sprinkler" antics on YouTube, if you dare) you would think they might pay more heed to the words of Fanny Brice/Barbara Streisand in the 1964 Broadway show Funny Girl.

But no. They have decided to unleash an icy torrent on their own parade by declining the chance of a public homecoming celebration on their return from the current Test series in Australia. Good.

It is distasteful to start booking open-top buses and hoarding ticker tape before a Test is finished. Yes, England have retained the Ashes, but Australia could still level the score in the fifth Test in Sydney, which starts today. Wildly celebrating a draw, albeit a fine away draw, would seem a little over-the-top.

Such emotional incontinence does not sit well with cricket. It is a sport which suits a stiff upper lip far better than a trembling lower one. Cricketers should follow the poet Rudyard Kipling's suggestion that being a man requires you to treat both triumph and disaster - and, yes, draws - just the same: a firm handshake, a pat on the back and a brisk "Well played!"

Sadly, in recent years, cricket has edged closer to football - a sport which will gladly hold an open-top bus parade for a successful throw-in and break out the black armbands if a steward's cat dies - in a rejection of emotional perspective. Now in cricket it is often bear hugs over handshakes, chest-beating over back-patting and teary speeches over simple words of congratulation. The Gentleman's Game is in grave danger of losing Rudyard Kipling and finding Gwyneth Paltrow.

The supporters, too, have started to ape their football counterparts. The self-styled "Barmy Army" of England cricket fans is undoubtedly loyal and passionate, but their unwavering "support" often smacks of attention-seeking. Like football fans, they are not content with simply watching the spectacle but demand to be a part of it. They are like the plastic vuvuzela trumpets of last summer's World Cup: harmless fun in small doses, but you would not want to watch a match surrounded by them.

The decision to reject a post-Ashes victory parade was allegedly based more on practical reasoning than a desire to celebrate modestly. The official reason given was that players have only six days between returning to England and departing for the World Cup in Asia, and that the time would be best spent with their families.

However, from an English perspective, I hope that this reticence also hints at a new-found confidence and inner steel. Over-celebrating a single victory is the act of a team which did not expect to win, and does not know when the next victory is coming (see the infamous 2005 Ashes celebration by a bleary-eyed Andrew Flintoff and Co).

By refusing to break out the bunting this time, Andrew Strauss, the captain, and Andy Flower, the coach, are effectively saying that victory is no longer a pleasant surprise but a realistic expectation.

In Funny Girl, the song after Don't Rain On My Parade is called Find Yourself A Man. In Strauss and Flowers, England appear to have found two. Kipling would approve.

Ferguson denies two players joy

When David Beckham, the former England football captain, collected a prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award last month, he thanked the “great teams I have been lucky enough to play with”.

He listed them: Preston North End, Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan, England.

There was slight snigger from the audience when Beckham  mentioned Preston. They thought he might be joking, to name this unfashionable Lancashire minnow alongside such glorious giants (and the LA Galaxy).

He was not joking. He knew that his loan spell at Preston, a family club with a fine history, for part of the 1994/95 season, helped to develop his game in relative obscurity before he was exposed to the unforgiving glare at Old Trafford.

Two current Manchester United players had also been enjoying loan spells at Preston, until last week.

Ritchie de Laet, a defender, and Joshua King, a striker, were honing their skills at Deepdale under the Preston manager Darren Ferguson, the son of Sir Alex, the United manager. Then Ferguson Jnr was sacked by Preston, having won just 13 out of 49 games.

His furious father reacted by recalling de Laet and King, who were due to play in two crucial clashes against Derby and Crystal Palace. He is also trying to claw back a third player, Matty James, whose season-long loan contract makes him harder to extricate.

Sir Alex is clearly a loyal father. He still refuses to speak to the BBC for broadcasting an unflattering documentary about Darren in 2003, and his revenge against Preston for sacking his son was as swift as it was spiteful.

It must be comforting for Darren, a grown man of 38, to know that Sir Alex is always watching out for his best interests.

I wonder if King and de Laet, who are aged just 18 and 22 respectively, and who were reportedly enjoying their time at Preston (just as Beckham did) feel able to say the same thing.

 

sports@thenational.ae